mask hanging from a light
Credit: Darrow Montgomery/file

Khepra’s Raw Food Juice Bar owner Khepra Anu vowed on social media this week not to open a storefront in D.C. until the city lifts its mask-wearing requirements. The posts say mask-wearing “does not promote health and definitely doesn’t provide safety” despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Countries around the world have encouraged or mandated wearing masks in order to limit the spread of COVID-19, which has so far killed 2.5 million people worldwide, 1,027 of them District residents. 

Just today, the Centers for Disease Control released a report that found mandating masks was associated with “a decrease in daily COVID-19 case and death growth rates within 20 days of implementation.” Masks work, according to the CDC, because the “virus is transmitted predominantly by inhaling respiratory droplets from infected persons.”

Mask effectiveness has been established for months. A study released in June 2020 in the peer-reviewed healthcare journal Health Affairs found masks prevented as many as 230,000 to 450,000 COVID-19 cases by May 22 in 15 states plus D.C. that adopted mask mandates early on.

Anu has his own ideas, which he expressed in uniform posts on both his personal and business Facebook and Instagram accounts. Facebook added a disclaimer to the post that says the posts are “false information checked by independent fact-checkers.”

Anu, who is currently out of the country, confirms he authored the posts. “I am against the mask mandate and I know I will not follow it and not enforce it,” he reiterates to City Paper in an email. “It would not be fair to my customers, and employees to put the business at risk for an aggressive fine or an expected immediate shut down for a mandate that promotes fear and makes it difficult to breathe. A vaccine mandate for food establishments will be probable and I am 100 percent against vaccines.”

He calls the CDC a corrupt organization. “I’m sure most of their employees are good people, but at the top of the pyramid there are evil agendas at play,” Anu says. “This is hype campaign to push vaccines. I said this back in February 2020 and received a lot of hate and unnecessary criticism. Mask wearing is not healthy and doesn’t provide safety, that’s a fact.  Why would I follow that?”

Again, multiple studies have shown that mask-wearing has benefits. With new variants of the virus spreading across the planet, the CDC is now recommending wearing two masks at the same time.

Khepra’s Raw Food Juice Bar, which has also gone by Hempburger Cafe & Juice Bar, used to have a brick-and-mortar location on H Street NE serving raw vegan food like coconut “crabcakes” and avocado quinoa chili along with juices and smoothies.

City Paper chronicled the restaurant’s eviction lawsuit in 2019 and eventual closure in 2020. Some neighbors, including H Street Main Street founder Anwar Saleem, voiced their support for having a healthy option in the neighborhood. “A lot of African Americans who suffered from eating processed food now have a place to reclaim their health,” Saleem told City Paper in 2019. “It would be sad to see something like that go. People need to better understand its value.” 

Anu subsequently moved his business to Tastemakers, a culinary incubator in Brookland. Co-owner Kirk Francis says he and Anu came to a mutual agreement to part ways on Oct. 27 of last year. “Our business relationship was strained because he and his staff would frequently fail to follow our facility requirements for wearing a mask and closed-toe shoes while working in the kitchen, among other issues,” Francis says.

Anu says Tastemakers terminated his contract because he didn’t have the proper license to operate from the health department. “Tastemakers felt I was a risk to their operation when I disobeyed the health department’s order to destroy over $1000 of food product without proper justification,” he writes. “I don’t blame them.”

While Francis has not read Anu’s social posts about masks, he says “COVID-19 is a real pandemic causing serious problems for millions around the world” and “wearing a mask is an incredibly effective and easy way to minimize the spread of COVID-19.” He’s proud of the strict safety measures that Tastemakers has established that have prevented cases of COVID-19 in the commercial kitchen.

Tastemakers got a surprise, “very intense” visit from D.C. Health Department inspectors today, according to Francis. “They were looking for Khepra and his products due to multiple consumer complaints about tainted juices,” he says.

DC Health did not comment on allegations of tainted juices, but they did confirm that they sent inspectors to Tastemakers today after the agency received several complaints regarding Khepra’s Juice Bar. 

“DC Health sent investigators to Tastemaker’s, who confirmed that Khepra’s was no longer operating out of that location,” the agency tells City Paper. “Staff also verified the brick-and-mortar store for Khepra’s located at 408 H St. NE was no longer in operation. Staff will continue to monitor social media in case another location for Khepra presents itself, but at this time no further action is underway.”

It’s unclear where Anu is currently preparing and selling food. An employee who said their name is Qua answered a call to the number associated with the business on Google. Qua said they’re currently operating out of a“temporary location” but wouldn’t go into detail. Neither would Anu.

When commenters challenged or voiced their support for Anu’s beliefs in the comments of the Instagram post, Anu often responded.

“Since COVID is fake are you willing to go care for people who have been diagnosed with fake covid with no PPE since it’s not contagious?” one person asked. Anu’s response: “Well sure. They can sneeze in my mouth.”

Another Instagram user asked, “So ya’ll making those juices with no masks???” Anu’s response: “Of course!!!!! Sometimes my staff wear or 1/2 wear. They know I won’t make them wear it.”

City Paper asked the same question. “I never wear a mask as I sometimes prepare,” Anu writes. “The staff will wear mask on their own volition. Because they are aware of my stance, they sometimes wear, they sometimes don’t.”  

Some followers agreed with the post’s sentiments saying, “Thank God somebody understands it” or, “Say it again for the people in the back.”

Other posts from Anu’s account this year encouraged followers to “hug a stranger” and implied that the global pandemic was somehow manufactured. He called it a “#plandemic.”

What’s next for Anu? He says, “I will likely relocate myself and my family to a state that has lifted these ridiculous mandates (Florida perhaps) or even another country that will be regulation business friendly.”